Keeping Time: in Cheerios or otherwise

I realized last week that a great deal of my time is measured in words and Cheerios. I track my progress writing by the number of new words written, and I have “n” number of Cheerios to get my toddler’s meals ready and served to her before the squawking starts. And while Cheerios and word counts may hold little relevance in a post-apocalyptic world, it did remind me of the arbitrary, invented nature of time, and I don’t think even an apocalypse will change that.

So what is time anyway? Webster’s first definition of time is as follows:

“The measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues: duration; a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present through future.”

In other words, Cheerios or words are equally viable because they provide the unite with which to measure my actions and processes. The same is true for measuring time through the changing of seasons and light; planting and harvesting schedules; and cyclical, predictable events that occur annually and can be easily recognized. These are the methods through which our ancestors traditionally measured time before the adoption of more standardized, rigid methods of measurement, and it seems likely apocalyptic-survivors would go back to something similar.

It also seems likely that history would become measured by something resembling years marked by “B.E.” (Before the Event) and “AE” (After the Event) or something similar. How long, I wonder, before notions of B.C.E. and C.E. disappear or all become grouped into a “before” type of category? How much of what happens – especially in the immediate aftermath of the apocalyptic event – will be forgotten or lost to history? For many, survival would certainly take precedence over record-keeping.

While there is certainly living memory, for a time, memory itself is unreliable, and different methods of knowledge transference potentially elaborate or distort the “truth” beyond recognition. And it’s the simple kind of “common” knowledge that disappears most easily, because it wasn’t seen worth writing down. That’s why there are aspects of even 18th and 19th century life that are somewhat lacking in clarity and which people like historical re-enactors search for, and compared to all of human history, that’s not very long ago. Perhaps too it will become an issue of not understanding date placement for historical issues because of a difference in understanding of time.

The thing is, time is largely an invention we use to understand the past, divide-up the present, and plan for the future. And while for some it can become an “enemy,” or a thing that is stolen, lost, or given, time isn’t actually anything at all, other than a somewhat fuzzy notion we as humans share, and which we’ve decided to measure currently in seconds, minutes, and hours. It doesn’t mean such notions will never change. Particularly come the end of the world, since watch batteries do go dead, and I seriously doubt your cell phone will be able to give you a date and time until the end of eternity – they tend to need things like electricity and charging and stuff.

So, what happens to time in the future? How will it be measured and maintained? What will be its significance, particularly relating to the different stages of post-apocalyptic life (ie: from immediate aftermath to rebuilding to somewhat functioning new order)?

Well, the Cheerios are gone, and this is 605 words in, 100 more than I planned. What about you? Is the sand in your hourglass gone? Is it getting cooler and the sun setting, meaning another day has ended and tomorrow brings more struggles? How do you measure time? How will that change?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week.

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